Answer the Following Questions Based on a Short Story

Please provide answers to the following 3 parts.

Part 1

Class Exercise: Symbolic Interaction Theory

Cipher in the Snow

Below is a short story by Jean Mizer entitled “Cipher in the Snow”.  Please read the story then analyze it using concepts from Mead’s Symbolic Interaction Theory. 


Cipher in the Snow

It started with tragedy on a biting cold February morning. I was driving behind the Milford Corners bus as I did most snowy mornings on my way to school. The bus veered and stopped short at the hotel, which it had no business doing, and I was annoyed as I had to come to an unexpected stop. The boy lurched out of the bus, reeled, stumbled, and collapsed on the snow bank at the curb. The bus driver and I reached him at the same moment. The boy’s thin, hollow face was white even against the snow.

“He’s dead,” the driver whispered.

It didn’t register for a minute. I glanced quickly at the scared young faces staring down at us from the school bus. “A doctor! Quick! I’ll phone from the hotel . . .”

“No use, I tell you, he’s dead.” The driver looked down at the boy’s still form. “He never even said he felt bad,” he muttered. “Just tapped me on the shoulder and said, real quiet, ‘I’m sorry. I have to get off at the hotel.’ That’s all. Polite and apologizing like.”

At school the giggling, shuffling morning noise quieted as news went down the halls. I passed a huddle of girls. “Who was it? Who dropped dead on the way to school?” I heard one of them half-whisper.

“Don’t know his name. Some kid from Milford Corners,” was the reply.

It was like that in the faculty room and the principal’s office. “I’d appreciate your going out to tell the parents,” the principal told me. “They haven’t a phone, and anyway, somebody from the school should go there in person. I’ll cover your classes.”

“Why me?” I asked. “Wouldn’t it be better if you did it?”

“I didn’t know the boy,” the principal admitted levelly. “And in last year’s sophomore personalities column I noted that you were listed as his favorite teacher.”

I drove through the snow and cold down the bad canyon road to the Evans’ place and thought about the boy, Cliff Evans. His favorite teacher! I thought. He hasn’t spoken two words to me in two years! I could see him in my mind’s eye all right, sitting back there in the last seat in my afternoon literature class. He came in the room by himself and left by himself. “Cliff Evans,” I muttered to myself, “a boy who never talked.” I thought a minute. “A boy who never smiled. I never saw him smile once.”

The big ranch kitchen was clean and warm. I blurted out my news somehow. Mrs. Evans reached blindly toward a chair. “He never said anything about bein’ ailing.”

His stepfather snorted. “He ain’t said nothin’ about anything since I moved in here.”

Mrs. Evans pushed a pan to the back of the stove and began to untie her apron. “Now hold on,” her husband snapped. “I got to have breakfast before I go to town. Nothin’ we can do now, anyway. If Cliff hadn’t been so dumb, he’d have told us he didn’t feel good.”

After school I sat in the office and stared blankly at the records spread out before me. I was to read the file and write the obituary for the school paper. The almost bare sheets mocked the effort. Cliff Evans, white, never legally adopted by stepfather, five young half-brothers and sisters. These meager strands of information and the list of “D” grades were all the records had to offer.

Cliff Evans had silently come in the school door in the mornings and gone out the school door in the evenings, and that was all. He had never belonged to a club. He had never played on a team. He had never held an office. As far as I could tell, he had never done one happy, noisy kid thing. He had never been anybody at all.

How do you go about making a boy into a zero? The grade-school records showed me. The first and second grade teachers’ annotations read, “Sweet, shy child,” “timid but eager.” Then the third grade note had opened the attack. Some teacher had written in a good, firm hand, “Cliff won’t talk. Uncooperative. Slow learner.” The other academic sheep and followed with “dull,” “slow-witted,” “low I.Q.” They became correct. The boy’s I.Q score in the ninth grade was listed at 83. But his I.Q. in the third grade had been 106. The score didn’t go under 100 until the seventh grade. Even the shy, timid, sweet children have resilience. It takes time to break them.

I stomped to the typewriter and wrote a savage report pointing out what education had done to Cliff Evans. I slapped a copy on the principal’s desk and another in the sad, dog-eared file. I banged the typewriter and slammed the file and crashed the door shut, but I didn’t feel much better. A little boy kept walking after me, a little boy with a peaked, pale face; a skinny body in faded jeans; and big eyes that had looked and searched for a long time and then had become veiled.

I could guess how many times he had been chosen last to play sides in a game, how many whispered child conversations had excluded him, how many times he hadn’t been asked. I could see and hear the faces that said over and over, “You’re nothing, Cliff Evans.”

A child is a believing creature. Cliff undoubtedly believed them. Suddenly it seemed clear to me: When finally there was nothing left at all for Cliff Evans, he collapsed on a snow bank and went away. The doctor might list “heart failure” as the cause of death, but that wouldn’t change my mind.

We couldn’t find ten students in the school who had known Cliff well enough to attend the funeral as his friends. So the student body officers and a committee from the junior class went as a group to the church, being politely sad. I attended the services with them, and sat through it with a lump of cold lead in my chest and a big resolve growing through me.

I’ve never forgotten Cliff Evans nor that resolve. He has been my challenge year after year, class after class. I look for veiled eyes or bodies scrounged into a seat in an alien world. “Look, kids,” I say silently. “I may not do anything else for you this year, but not one of you is going to come out of here as a nobody. I’ll work or fight to the bitter end doing battle with society and the school board, but I won’t have one of you coming out of there thinking himself a zero.”

Most of the time — not always, but most of the time — I’ve succeeded.

~Jean Mizer


Please analyze the story using Mead’s Symbolic Interaction Theory.  Specifically:

Looking Glass Self: What do you suppose the boy saw when he “looked in the mirror”?  Why do you think he perceived himself in that way?

Pygmalion Effect: Do you see the Pygmalion effect working in this story?  How?  How did it affect the boy’s behavior/self concept?  How did it affect his communication with others?

Particular Others: Who were the boy’s particular others?  How do you think they affected his sense of self?

Generalized Others: Who were the boy’s generalized others?  How do you think they affected his sense of self?

Self Fulfilling Prophecy: Was a self fulfilling prophecy operating in this story?  What was it?  How do you think it occurred?

General Questions

1.  Generally speaking, how do you think Mead’s concepts of Mind, Self, and Society operated to “cause” this young man’s death?

2.  Do you think Mead’s Symbolic Interaction Theory provides a good theoretical framework for understanding what happened in this story?  Why or why not?

3.  Can you think of an example from your own life where Symbolic Interaction Theory was at work?


Part 2

The Coordinated Management of Meaning

A Hypothetical Negotiation Between Two Business Executives

Directions:  Below is a hypothetical negotiation between two business executives.  Read the negotiation and then answer the questions which follow. 

Business Executive #1:  Sam from the United States

Business Executive #2:  Yoshio from Japan 

Sam’s Perspective:    This is a business negotiation.  During a business negotiation it is appropriate to state one’s business, make offers and counter offers, use negotiation tactics to gain as much as possible, and then return home.  Topics of conversation such as families, hobbies, religion, or politics are inappropriate.  Brief inquiries about family or short discussions about sports can be used as small talk to break the ice, but the goal is to get down to business right away.  Sam has been away from home for over a week and is eager to get back to her family.

Yoshio’s Perspective:    This is a business negotiation.  Business transactions are an extension of one’s social and family life.  One would not do business with strangers.  Therefore, a lot of time must be spent developing relationships before negotiating any business contracts.

Here is the Conversation:

Sam:    It is very nice to meet you.  Shall we get down to business?

Yoshio:    Fine.  I thought we might go to dinner tonight, then to the Kabuki tomorrow.  I want to show you my country because it is your first visit to Japan.

After several days of social activities, Sam is growing increasingly impatient.  Yoshio is feeling rushed by Sam’s insistence on discussing the contract.  They begin contract talks.

This is the conversation:

Sam:    This is my last price.  Take it or leave it!  I have to be back at my desk on Monday and this is the best I can do.

Yoshio:    I know you are trying to give us a good price for our products.

Sam:    It’s a deal, then…?

Yoshio:   (long silence…)…

Sam:   Fine.  I’ll have my people draw up the papers for your approval.  We’ll meet here again tomorrow.

Yoshio:    Yes, I’ll see you tomorrow…

Sam’s Interpretation:  Fabulous!  They agreed to all our terms!  The Japanese are easier to negotiate with than I thought.  I’ll be on a plane home by noon tomorrow!

Yoshio’s Interpretation:  How rude Americans are!!  I can see we have our work cut out for us if we are ever going to agree on a contract.  To threaten us with words like, “take it or leave it”!  And, how uncivilized to refuse our hospitality!  Tomorrow will be a very long day!

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Did Sam and Yoshio coordinate meaning?  Not coordinate meaning?  Partially coordinate meaning?
  2. What was the context for the communication?
  3. What were the rules for this context?  For Sam?  For Yoshio?
  4. Let’s look at the speech act “Take it or Leave it!”
    1. What were the constitutive (definition) rules operating?  Did they agree?
    2. What were the regulative (behavior) rules operating?  Did they agree?
  5. Let’s look at the hierarchy of meaning.  How were each of the negotiators creating meaning?
    1. Content?
    2. Speech Acts?
    3. Contract?
    4. Episodes?
    5. Life scripts?
    6. Cultural patterns?
  6. How can an understanding of the Coordinated Management of Meaning prevent a misunderstanding like this one from happening in your life?


Part 3

Cognitive Dissonance Theory

Here’s a good video (less than 5 minutes) that shows Leon Festinger, and another famous social psychologist, Dr. Philip Zimbardo, and how Cognitive Dissonance was developed in the 1950s.

As you read through this chapter, think about the “intrapersonal” dialogue that goes on when we feel an internal conflict. (Intrapersonal communication is the internal dialogue we have inside our own minds.)  Indeed, we so dislike psychological discomfort or a sense of inconsistency between our values and our actions that we actively seek to NOT feel cognitive dissonance. 

Because of that internal discomfort, people who experience cognitive dissonance are relatively easier to motivate to behave a particular way.  They are looking for ways to reduce their internal discomfort.  I think the four assumptions of CDT are particularly clear, so spend a little time absorbing the ideas about “magnitude of dissonance,” “coping with dissonance,” and “minimal justification.” 

1.  Another important aspect of this theory is how it applies to the way we “manage” our perceptions through selection.  Can you think of ways that you look for information that is consistent with your values and world view?

2.  Look at the section on the “testability” of CDT.  Note that what makes CDT difficult to test is not that it can be proved, but that it is difficult to disprove.  Why does that happen when researchers look at CDT?  What is it hard to disprove the theory?  Can you think of a test that you could perform that would yield more definitive results? 

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